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Food safety steps can keep cook-outs unspoiled
MISSISSIPPI STATE – Summertime means outdoor meals with friends and family, and Mississippi State University food safety experts want everyone to use simple strategies to reduce the chances of foodborne illness.
Natasha Haynes, nutrition and food safety area agent with the MSU Extension Service in Lincoln County, recommends using these four steps: clean, separate, cook and chill. The steps are part of the Be Food Safe campaign developed by the U. S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.
“Because unwashed hands are a major cause of foodborne illnesses, the first step is to clean,” Haynes said. “Wash your hands with warm soapy water before handling food, and wash the surfaces on which you prepare food.”
Step two, separate, prevents cross-contamination.
“When people grill meat, they need to wash all utensils, cutting boards and dishes that came into contact with the raw product,” Haynes said. “Don’t put cooked ribs back on the platter they were on when they were raw.”
If raw meat is transported in a cooler, it should be wrapped tightly or stored in a sealed container that won’t leak, as raw meat juices can contaminate ready-to-eat foods.
Step three, cook, means cooking foods at the proper temperature for the right amount of time to cut down on harmful bacteria.
“An effective way to prevent illness is to use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of meat, poultry and egg dishes,” Haynes said. “The food thermometer should be placed in the thickest part of the food and should not touch bone, fat or gristle. Check the temperature in several places to make sure the food is evenly heated. Make sure to clean your food thermometer with hot, soapy water before and after each use.
“Using a food thermometer not only keeps your family safe from harmful food bacteria, but it also helps you to avoid overcooking, giving you a safe and flavorful meal,” she said.
Finally, chill. The work is done, the meal has been enjoyed, so cool the food to keep it from spoiling.
“Before you get too comfortable, refrigerate those leftovers,” Haynes said. “Keep drinks in one cooler, as it will be opened often, and keep your perishable foods such as potato salad, pasta salad, meat and deviled eggs in another. As the ice melts, add more.
“Don’t leave food out for long periods of time. If it’s over 90 degrees outside, food shouldn’t stay out for more than one hour,” she said.
Jason Behrends, assistant research professor with the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, said people mistakenly believe they can smell or taste food and know if it will make them sick.
“Pathogens do not produce a smell or taste and can cause illness in very low numbers,” he said. “Smell and taste are not good indicators of whether a food contains harmful pathogens.”
Many myths surrounding food safety persist because they come from trusted people, such as parents and grandparents, or because people have ignored food safety guidelines and have not gotten sick, said Brent Fountain, Extension human nutrition specialist.
“Just remember that foodborne illness occurs based on several factors, such as number and virulence of the pathogens and the health and strength of your immune system to fight off those pathogens,” Fountain said. “It is always best to follow proper food safety procedures to guarantee the safety of your food.”
Food safety guidelines are important to follow year-round, but food poisoning is much more common in the summer because warmer temperatures grow bacteria more quickly.
“Under the right conditions, bacteria numbers can double every 20 minutes,” Fountain said. “Given Mississippi’s warmer summers, without temperature control – either hot or cold – the food is at risk.”
MSU has a variety of free publications on food safety tips and techniques available at http://www.msucares.com. These include “Safe Food Handling” and “Use a Food Thermometer and Take the Guesswork Out of Cooking.” Information also can be found at http://www.BeFoodSafe.gov.